CRESTLINE, Ohio — The fields are large and flat in this part of Ohio, with clusters of huge silver bins towering skyward outside the farm buildings and farm homes.
Just a few miles east, there’s hills and pastures with roaming livestock, but out here, in the western half of Ohio — it’s cropland.
Rick Niese and his family live in the midst of that cropland, outside of Crestline in Crawford County. Everything west of them is flat, and arguably home to some of the best cropland in Ohio.
Rick and his uncle, Joe, and his father, Jerry farm more than 11,000 acres in seven Ohio counties. About half is soybeans and the other half is corn.
The acreage may sound shocking to farmers in eastern Ohio, where rolling hills and woodland typically results in smaller farms, with a greater focus on livestock and hay.
But for Niese Brothers Farms — it’s a year-round business that supports three families, and as many as 20 farm workers during planting season.
“Anybody can come here and see that we’re a family farm,” said Rick Niese. “A lot of people call us factory farmers, we consider ourselves an agribusiness.”
It all started with some land rentals Rick’s dad arranged over the hood of a pickup truck more than 45 years ago. The land owners were satisfied and kept coming back, along with new farms and new land.
Sitting inside a newly constructed farm office, Rick points to a row of binders that keep the records for each of the farms they rent.
The rent contracts specify that broken tiles will be fixed, rocks picked up, and lime and fertilizer applied as necessary.
“Anybody that we farm for, we try to treat their land as if it’s ours,” Niese said.
“We don’t wear green underwear, or red underwear, or yellow underwear. We run whatever we feel to suit our needs.”
The brand of equipment depends on what’s best that year, but most of it is new with the latest GPS and crop monitoring technology.
“We don’t wear green underwear, or red underwear, or yellow underwear,” Niese said. “We run whatever we feel to suit our needs.”
Currently, it’s a combination of John Deere 8R series tractors, along with a couple large Case tractors on tracks. The Nieses use variable rate spreaders to spread both fertilizer and lime.
Rick Niese estimates they still use as much material as before, but “the difference is, it’s putting it where it needs it,” he said.
In the past year, they constructed a new equipment shop and office complex. Both are state-of-the-art facilities designed to get heavy equipment in and out fast.
In a normal year, the Nieses would start planting corn by the middle of April and be finished by the first week of May.
But this year, they were still planting in the beginning of June, on the heels of record rainfall across Ohio.
For the first several weeks, “we were getting a little antsy,” recalled Chad Niese, one of Rick’s cousins.
Chad was still planting few smaller fields near Plymouth, Ohio, on June 2, when he took Farm and Dairy along for a few rounds inside the cab of his tractor. Some fields dried early in the spring, and many more did not.
“It was kind of pick and choose,” he said.
As of the first of June, they had planted 65-70 percent of their corn and about 95 percent of beans. They hoped to be finished planting by June 5-6.
Although the Nieses have many acres to plant, they also have the manpower and the equipment to get it done fast — when the weather is fit. Rick Niese said they’re usually done “as fast or faster” than most farmers, because they can get in and get the job done.
For planting, they use two 24-row corn planters. Their bean planter is set up to plant 47 15-inch rows at a time.
Come harvest season, they run two 12-row combines for corn, and can harvest 4,500 bushels an hour. The farm has storage capacity of 1.1 million bushels and can dry 4,000 bushels per hour.
The tractors are mostly new and range from 300-500-plus horsepower. And they seem to get a little bigger each year.
“You just think it can’t get any bigger and then it does,” Chad said.
It’s a lot of power, but is necessary to keep up with the size of the attachments.
Tillage is kept to a minimum and is mostly done as vertical tillage or inline ripping. The heaviest tillage is done with one of two Case IH Quadtracs, which are rated at 530-plus horsepower.
Almost everything on the Niese farm has become more efficient — from the seeds to the tractors. As Rick sees it, better technology and efficiency are the way forward.
World population is expected to double by 2050, and people want good food to eat — all of this at a time when farm acreage is decreasing.
“We are at maximum acreage right now,” he said. “There is no more land to raise crops on. We’re going to have to produce twice the food on the same amount of acreage, or less.”
Rick is a supporter of increased ethanol use as a sustainable fuel made in the United States. And he sees opportunity with natural resources like wind power.
“We believe that we have to start trying to help ourselves,” he said. “Our attitude is the USA needs to be a little more self-supportive.”
Niese and his family are prepared to do just that, and with the quality agribusiness they’ve built, they intend to produce as much grain as they can.